With a background in Marine biology and a general distaste for anything cute and cuddly I have naturally gravitated towards fish as a career focus. Having said that, as I have mellowed with age the cute and fuzzies have become more appealing, allowing me to appreciate the true gorgeousness of the eel, amongst others.
Threats to the world’s fish populations and ecosystems they rely on are significant, persistent and accelerating. I am interested in reducing these threats by working from a fishers-eye-view and most keenly pursue these insights in small-scale and subsistence fisheries, where I believe the greatest challenges lie. Towards this end, I am now interested in coastal, community-based conservation efforts: novel and innovating ideas that marry conservation with improved livelihoods and wellbeing for people reliant on the oceans.
Coastal regions in the developing world are under ever growing pressure. Expanding human populations along African coastlines are supplied not only by growing local communities, but also significant coastal migration as inland resources become increasingly depleted. In many places fishing is replacing traditional nomadic or agricultural activities as predominant sources of income. New entrants to fisheries often lack experience and capital to operate and purchase technical fishing gear. In many places this is leading to dangerous fishing activities, overexploitation and the use of opportunistic fishing gears. The fight against malaria in many parts of Africa by the World Health Organisation and numerous development NGOs has meant the distribution of millions of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets (MNs). Since this drive to help eradicate malaria has been underway an increasing number of reports of alternative uses of these nets have been observed including as fishing nets.
Concern over the ecological impacts of using fine-mesh, unselective fishing gear, often over coral reef or fragile ecosystems, means blanket bans on the activity have been a common response e.g. in Mozambique. However, recent studies have indicated that those using MNs may often be the most vulnerable within their communities; using MNs for subsistence with catches often too poor to sell, and lacking the ability to invest in alternative livelihood strategies. My research will focus on elucidating the true ecological effects of this kind of fishing on coastal fisheries, as well as identification of drivers and contributions to local livelihoods and wellbeing with a localised study. This information will inform a scenario workshop with relevant stakeholders in order to begin to develop appropriate policies and interventions at a larger scale.
My research utilises the Our Sea Our Life initiative led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) towards community management of coastal reefs in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique where MN fishing is one of a number of issues requiring management. I will aim to incorporate MN fishing within current plans for overall fisheries management, creating a model of robust interventions for improving local resilience to future climate and social change.